Thursday, July 21, 2016

Clean Skillet Lasagna

I've seen these recipes on Facebook before but had never made skillet lasagna until I found it in a cookbook my daughter brought home from 4-H. Since I can be lazy in the kitchen from time to time, it's still not my favorite way to make lasagna. That would be in the crockpot because I don't have to precook the noodles. However, I do like the skillet method second best because you don't have to heat up the oven which means I can make it in the summer, too. 

Lately I've been up to my elbows in yarn (yes, literally) and in the middle of some major changes with my crochet "business", so this post is going to be short and sweet.

Here's what you need for the clean version: whole wheat lasagna noodles, cottage or ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese (grate your own! don't buy the pre-shredded crap!), frozen spinach (thawed), Italian seasoning, and homemade clean spaghetti sauce.

So basically your typical lasagna ingredients. 
One thing that I like about this recipe is the spinach. Sometimes we make this our meatless meal for the week and I use plain sauce but since the spinach is in there it still has extra flavor. And sometimes I use meat sauce and still add the spinach. Either way, it's an easy way to sneak some veggies into your kid's dinner. The original recipe also suggests using broccoli instead of spinach, but we have never tried that.

First step (and most annoying) is to cook your noodles according to the directions on the box. While those are cooking, mix together your ricotta or cottage cheese, half of your parmesan cheese, and italian seasoning.

Once your noodles are cooked, you are going to layer everything in the skillet. DO NOT turn on your skillet until all the layers are done. 

Spread half of your sauce on the bottom of the skillet and place 4 noodles on top.

Spread half of the cheese mixture over the noodles...

...and then add half of the spinach (or broccoli). 

Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese over the spinach and then repeat the layers with the remaining ingredients: noodles, cheese mixture, sauce, spinach, mozzarella.

Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top and cover with the lid or aluminum foil.

NOW turn on your burner to medium-low and cook until the cheese is melted (usually about 20 minutes).

Once the cheese is melted, turn off your burner and let it stand for about 5 minutes before serving. 

There you have it, lasagna without the hot kitchen or oven! Cook up (or microwave like me - see? lazy cooker here) some veggies and you have a nice clean, balanced dinner. 

I supposed the only downside to the skillet version of lasagna is that it's not as pretty and it doesn't come out in perfect little squares. But honestly....does it really matter what it looks like going down when it all comes out the same? Ha.

Hope you enjoy the recipe and are having a great summer!

Clean Skillet Lasagna
  • 8 whole wheat lasagna noodles
  • 1 1/4 tbsp Italian seasoning 
  • 24 oz of clean spaghetti sauce (or jar if you don't want clean)
  • 1 (15oz) carton of ricotta or cottage cheese
  • 10 oz of frozen thawed spinach OR cooked chopped broccoli
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese 
  • Cook the noodles according to the directions on the box. Drain and set to the side.
  • In a small bowl, mix the ricotta/cottage cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning.
  • Spread half of the sauce on the bottom of a deep-dish skillet and lay 4 noodles on top.
  • Spread half of the cheese mixture over the noodles. Top with half of the spinach/broccoli.
  • Sprinkle half the mozzarella cheese on top of the spinach. 
  • Repeat layers with remaining ingredients: noodles, cheese mixture, sauce, spinach, and mozzarella cheese.
  • Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan cheese. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil.
  • Turn on stove to medium-low and cook until the cheese is melted. About 20 minutes.
  • Turn off burner and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

How The West Was Fun

Looking out over Casper, Wyoming

Family vacations are something else, right? You spend forever saving your money, planning, prepping, and packing. You most likely travel some great distance by plane, train, or automobile. (see what I did there?) You spend a week seeing all the sights, visiting family, or whatever your vacation was intended for...and when you get home you are exhausted and need a vacation. Irony, anyone? 

But of course, we wouldn't trade it for the world. The memories made and the things experienced on these trips make the spent time, money, and sanity well worth it. 

This summer our family went on our first vacation in almost four years. In the first few years of our marriage we went on a trip every year. It wasn't a thing, it just happened that way. But the last few years of life circumstances (a miscarriage, job change and almost moving, another job change, and then a baby) kept us from going anywhere. But this summer we finally made it! My grandparents live in Casper, Wyoming so I rarely get to see them and in the last year my grandpa wasn't doing too well. Thankfully, he was moved to an assisted living facility and is thriving there. Thank you, Lord! But it was definitely our goal to get out to see them and that part of the country. My husband had never been there and my girls were too young to remember the last time there were there. Plus, my grandparents had yet to meet our little boy. 

So after saving our pennies for a year, off we went!

I really didn't share much of our trip on Facebook, so I decided to do a blog post with the highlights for anyone that was interested! So be prepared....this is going to be a lot of pictures!

We left just as the sun was coming up and our goal was to make it to North Platte, NB for the night. It was about 8 hours and we gave ourselves 10 to get there. Traveling with a baby is no joke people. 

I'm still impressed that I got us all in this picture.
Our first pit stop was in Iowa at the World's Largest Truck Stop.....seriously, who knew? 

Yay! We get to pee now! 
 Luckily, the first day of driving was uneventful. Bennett did AMAZING in the car, what a little trooper. We made it to North Platte right at dinner time, grabbed a pizza and hit the pool. We ended up being in a hotel that was right next to a brand new Veteran's Memorial that wasn't open yet, but you could walk around the outside and look in. It was a really nice surprise for our first night of vacation.

Nebraska sunrise. Soooo where's my coffee?
We made to Casper in pretty good time. Wyoming was a welcome sight after traveling through Iowa and Nebraska. least Iowa has corn. Nebraska is, so flat.

The day after we got to Casper was Memorial Day. I'm going to take a minute with this. I've never gone to a Memorial Day service of any kind. In all honesty, it wasn't until my husband joined the military that I really thought about what this day means. We went with my grandparents to a service at a Veteran's cemetery in Casper and it was such an experience. They had flags on every grave. They had large flags of each military branch posted all outside the chapel. Dozens of Patriot Guard Riders were stationed along the road holding flags. The service was so moving. A senator, a mayor and a few veterans spoke. They recognized veterans of each war (my grandpa is WWII), current service members, and the families that had lost someone in service. That was when I found out I was sitting next to a woman who was a Gold Star Mother, which means she lost a child in a war. When she stood up the tears poured down my face. I just cant imagine. I gave her the biggest hug when the service was over because I had no words to offer. 

I highly recommend that someday, before you light up the grill, you go to an actual Memorial Day service and take your kids. Let them see what it really means to sacrifice for this country. We can all use the reminder from time to time.
Flags on the graves at the Veteran's Cemetery in Casper, WY
The Patriot Guard lining the streets with flags
Me and one of my favorite veterans
We were in Casper for about five days and while there we did a bit of sight seeing. We went to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, which is really cool interactive museum of the pioneers that traveled through the Casper area. It gave us a great history base for some of the sight seeing we would be doing the next few days. 
Moms only get to be in selfies.
Next we went to Independence Rock which is a giant rock that was a significant stop on the Oregon and Mormon trails. If the travelers could make it to this rock by the fourth of July, then they knew they would make it to their destination before winter set in. The fun part about the rock is that you can climb all over it. We saw many people all the way at the top or going up and over to the other side. The kids wanted to eat lunch at the top....but mom and dad kaboshed that.

We decided to hike around it instead, I would guess it was just about a mile. But with a baby on your back and a whiny 6-year-old...a mile can feel pretty long. 

Man, my husband looks hot with our baby on his back.
The other interesting part of Independence Rock is that as you walk around, you can see where people carved their names and the year into the rock. There were soooo many names that are well over 150 years old.

Names and years carved into the rock by pioneers.
Family selfie at Independence Rock! My selfie skills really amaze me sometimes...
That day we also went over to the Mormon Hand Cart Visitor's Center which is Devil's Gate.
The story there is the Mormon's were being persecuted in the Midwest so they bought handcarts (basically small carts that they pulled rather than a horse) and headed out to Salt Lake City. When they got to this part of the country, they saw Devil's Gate which is a giant hole in a mountain that allowed them to pass through rather than around and make it Independence Rock. All of the history was really quite interesting. 

View of Devil's Gate from the Mormon Hand Cart Center.

Other than sight-seeing, we mainly spent time with my grandparents and swimming in the hotel pool. Although, I spent half of my time hiding in the hotel bathroom waiting for Bennett to fall asleep at nap time. Again...the joys of traveling with a baby!

Meeting his great-grandson for the first time.
Grandpa with half of his great-grandkids
The girls with Grandma and Grandpa and the Memorial Day Service
Finally we said our goodbyes and headed north. It was pretty hard saying goodbye for me. The reality is my grandparents live 1,000 miles away and they aren't getting younger. My grandpa is for sure done traveling, so if I am able to see him again it will only be if I can make it back out there. That was a hard pill to swallow. But I'm glad we finally made it and were able to spend lots of quality time with them. 

We left from Casper and headed to Rapid City, SD via Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore.

First stop was Devils Tower. I had visited all of these monuments as a kid...but you definitely forget how amazing they are!

Devils Tower in Wyoming

It was also more fun as an adult because I actually was interested and cared about the history of everything.

At some point, Jillian decided she needed pictures of her "holding up" all of the monuments...she keeps us laughing, that's for sure.

Check out how strong my kid is.
If you can believe it, people actually climb this thing! Insanity. There was a guy climbing it while we were there. I did learn that on the top, there is an entire ecosystem, so if you make it to the top, you are only allowed to walk around the edge and not on the grass or plants. I never would have thought that was up there!

On the way in and out of Devils Tower, you drive through a Prairie Dog Town. They are so cute! And they just sit there and stare at you. 

Is that made of....wooooood? Wait, that's a woodchuck.
We went on from there to the National Black Hills Forest and the Crazy Horse Monument.

They went that-a-way!
I'll say again that I'm glad to come back as adult. I remember the monument but I didn't remember the museum or any details. Unfortunately, because this is a privately funded project, it really hadn't changed much from the last time I was here. Right when we arrived we got to see some Native children doing a cultural dance called Hoop Dancing. These kids were 5 years old and up and they were invited to dance there that day. They were very talented!

The next day we made it to Mount Rushmore. It was a beautiful morning with not a cloud in the sky. 

Mount Rushmore with the flags of each state/territory in our country.
It wasn't as busy as I thought it would be, which was nice. We watched an informative video about how they carved it, toured around the visitor's center, and we bought the obligatory mug and fridge magnet.

We also had a fellow tourist take a family picture...I'm pretty sure he wasn't American because he didn't speak English very well and looked really annoyed when I asked him to take our picture.

So...are we photobombing them? Or are they photobombing us?

And here's Jillian holding them up.
Seriously, the muscles on this kid...
After Rushmore we continued East. We were headed to Michell, SD for the night. Oh yeah, that's right. The home of the Corn Palace. On our way to Mitchell, we stopped at the infamous Wall Drug. We wandered around and looked at all of the fun things, had lunch and homemade ice cream, and then met a woman working there whose son was also in the Coast Guard and is stationed not far from Chad. You just never know who you will meet! While we were waiting for lunch, I read the story of how Wall Drug got started. It was an interesting story of faith and ingenuity. Google it!
The girls and Annie Oakley. They forgot their guns.
We spent way more time at Wall Drug than we planned and were behind schedule, but with the Badlands just 7 miles away, we couldn't skip it. Chad had never been there and really wanted to see it, so we went for it. And it was so worth it! I regret that we didn't have more time to explore and climb around...but with a baby it was probably best to just drive through. We will be back though!

Is this where that guy got stuck and had to cut off his arm?
It amazes me that something this massive and beautiful is right here in our country. Especially when living in the land of corn and cows, it's easy to forget all our country has to see! God is an amazing artist and sights like this remind me how big He truly is!

We did just a little bit of climbing around....

Don't back up!

 ....and of course Jillian had to hold them up. I really did try to explain that it wouldn't work with this, but she wasn't interested.

I mean, now she's just showing off.
As we were driving through we saw a buffalo far off, some rams grazing on grass, and lots of prairie dogs. As we were driving through the endless hills, I threw up a prayer asking for God to let us see one animal on top of a hill. Of course, everyone in the car laughed at me but I didn't care. And then a few miles later, I spotted a big ram sitting on top of a hill. It almost completely blended in with the scenery but I spotted it and yelled at Chad to stop the car. Thankfully I have a somewhat decent zoom on my little Canon and I got a snapshot of him. Plus, I got to prove to my family that I wasn't stupid for asking God for something so small. Win for mom!

This was my "happy dance" moment.
 We finally made it to Mitchell at 9:30pm and the waterpark at the hotel closed at 10:00. So we did the fastest shuffle to get our stuff in the room, swim suits on and get the kids to the pool. It also meant we ate dinner at 11:00pm. You know what? It was totally worth it. The kids had a blast with their dad for 20 minutes on the waterslide, we ate cold pizza for dinner, and it reminded me that sometimes you just have to go with the flow and live life.

We obviously woke up late the next morning, so the last day of driving proved to be long. And Bennett was beyond done with traveling. But luckily we had a fun pit stop for dinner at our friend's house in Iowa. They were so sweet and made dinner for us. I can't even tell you how nice it was to eat a home cooked meal after 9 days of vacation food! We finally made it home about 4 hours later than we planned, but none of us cared.

It was a long, fun, exciting, exhausting trip and I'm so glad we took it. The kids did great in the car, Jillian didn't complain as much as we expected and Liv was a huge help with Bennett. Now that I crochet, I didn't mind Chad doing most of the driving, so that fight wasn't there this time. I mean, look at all the crochet I got done!!

Just call me lighting fingers.
 I had two takeaways from this vacation: I'm done with vacations with a baby. I'm glad we did it, but I have no need to do it again...and...our next vacation will be grown ups only and tropical.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and stories from our trip, and if you've never been to this part of the country I highly suggest you get there!

Here's a few extra fun photos. :)

Look at that FACE! And I love the hat making his ears stick out!
This will be the picture from our next trip....only with sand and palm trees in the background.
Entertaining the baby while waiting for lunch!

Just call her Laura Ingalls!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Crochet USA Cozy Pattern

A couple of months ago I bought some red, white, and blue yarn on sale...but I had no idea what to do with it. I was too busy in May to play with it for Memorial Day so I made sure to make time for it before the 4th of July. 

The first thing I actually made was a flag wreath.

Pattern from Petals to Picots

I had plenty of yarn left when I finished the wreath, so I decided to make a couple cozies. I looked around for a pattern and found a couple I liked...but then I just decided to play around with the yarn and see what happened. 

Well what happened was I made my own cozy!
After I was done and liked how it turned out, I thought why not write it down? I've done this before, played around with a pattern and made up my own, but I never wrote it down. And then when I want to make it again... I have no clue what I did. 

I'd really love to test the waters of writing my own patterns and I think this is a simple and easy way to start. And festive!

Ok, so here it goes....since this is my first attempt at writing a pattern, if you find a flaw PLEASE comment and tell me so I can fix it!! 
It would be much appreciated!

USA Can/Bottle Cozy

Skill Level: Easy
  • Yarn: Two strands regular worsted weight yarn, acrylic or cotton (cotton is better for sweating cans) in red, white, and blue - you will use two strands of blue and one strand of red & white together
  • Hook: K (6.5mm) & B (2.25mm)
  • Yarn needle
  • CH - chain
  • SS - slip stitch
  • ST/S - stitch(es)
  • SC - single crochet
  • HDC - half double crochet 
  • 3 HDC = 1 inch
Using one strand of red and one strand of white:
Start with a magic circle (if this is new, here is a great tutorial)

Row 1: CH 1, 6 HDC into magic circle; join with SS to first ST and pull tight (6sts)
R2: CH 1, starting in the next ST (not the one you SS to) 2 HDC in each ST; join with SS to 1st ST (12sts) - see images below for detailed examples of my joining method
R3: CH 1, *2 HDC in next ST, 1 HDC in next ST* repeat from *; join with SS (18sts)
R4: CH 1, *2HDC in next ST, 1 HDC in next two STS* repeat from *; join with SS (24sts)
R5: CH 1, in back loop only 1 HDC in each ST; join with SS (24sts)
R6-10: CH 1, 1HDC in each ST; join with SS (24sts)
Change to TWO strands of blue:
R11-13: CH 1, 1 HDC in each ST; join with SS (24sts)

If you are making the cozy for a can then skip Row 14, finish off and weave in ends.

R14 (for a bottle): CH 1, 1SC in each ST; join with SS to 1st ST (24sts)
Finish off and weave in ends.

For the stars I did two different options:

For the bottle cozy I used the stars from the wreath, only I used a 2.25mm hook. Here is the link to that pattern: Star Pattern from Petals to Picots

For the can cozy I just stitched little stars randomly on the blue.

I think they both turned out cute!

Here are some pictures to help with my joining method:

Image 1: This is the end of row 2

Image 2: Skip the chain one and slip stitch into the 1st stitch of Row 2.

Image 3: Joined with a slip stitch into the first stitch of that row.

 Image 4: Starting the next row - Chain one and the first stitch of the next row goes into stitch #2 of the previous row. You slip stitched into stitch #1.

 I hope that's not too confusing. I think I came up with this as a mixture of other methods I saw in patterns. I like it because it doesn't leave a noticeable seam and it's pretty easy once you know what you are doing. 

Please comment or email me with any questions or if I missed a step or stitch and I will fix it asap.

Happy Fourth of July!